Monday, May 19, 2014

Abandonees in the Limelight of Limbo,

Mainstream radio has been in a desperate plight for decades now and I blame it completely for my experience last week. I was alerted to the event in question by a circular email, ‘London-based seven-piece, Revere’ were due to be playing at the Lemon Tree. As someone who has always been interested in mini-orchestra pop bands, I was immediately inclined to look them up and I padded ‘Revere 6music’ into Google. I found that they were given airplay by Tom Robinson and Steve Lamacq, furthermore, they sounded decent on YouTube. The only problem was that I might have been the only person who went through these simple steps.

On the evening, I chose to roll up at the time instructed by the band on Twitter. They were still part of the support act’s audience at that time and very much a large percentage of it. The support act, Daniel Mutch, finished up with a Ben Howard cover. As he exited stage, the audience might have reached its evening high of 25.

I thought Revere were great, I really liked them. Their cello and trumpet add crest to their waves of shimmering guitars and drums. Some songs were rousing, some were poignant. Their set was varied and they definitely had more depth than your Hard-fis and Editors. I received value for my £7.70.

The most galling part, was just that. I felt sorry for the band; for such a great performance, they’d surely have made a loss. Travel, accommodation and food amount to more than must have been collected. There was tangible awkwardness to being the audience, but we were the ones who turned up, we weren’t the ones to blame.

My feeling is that the venue must be able to collude with the local radio network to avoid situations like that occurring. Of course, the tinpot local radio must adhere to their playlist but what if they were to accept a minor sum from the music venue to drip feed a few tunes by the artist in question in the lead up to the event and read a few words. The tinpot local receives the equivalent to an advertising fee, their only outlay is a few quid in downloading the records online and then a few pence in royalties (that fee is merely going to the touring band rather than, say, Elton John). The venue should then recover its outlay in extra advertising via ticket sales and drinks. If the tinpot local continues with Lionel Richie then the loop doesn’t start nor end, the rich get richer and the poor become poorer. Where does Revere's cover of 'Enjoy the Silence' fit in?

I ran away before any encore, I didn’t think they’d deem the nine-strong crowd worthy of it. I think I was wrong, nine is the magic number and if forming a gang, then nine is the number of members where happiness is optimum, unless the gang is a band trying to make a living from music.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Secretaries of Incursive Corruption,

One sunny morning last week, I gave thanks; thanks to no one in particular. I was thankful that I could be so absorbent, that I could cope with the frustrations and the failure to always see excellence in front of me. I’d like to think that I reached this condition of my own accord; I’d be more ashamed if it was beaten or driven out of me, maybe it was. I’ve been called a perfectionist, but I’m not. I know where order is required and in those places, I’ll strive for and maintain discipline. Elsewhere, I am content just not to make a mess. I’m just very rational, I can’t be impulsive, and I reason long with every choice. Seeing a need for order and being presented with constant disorder and disparity between the truth and the ideal, I should be in a permanent state of rage, I see people who are (but the one who is closest to me is a hypocrite and is perhaps deserving of such unease); undeniably, I am discontent but to be uneconomical with emotional energy is unbecoming. To absorb is to last.

I started the week in a low mood, I had absorbed the insanity of the needless human suffering that I read about in The Forgotten Highlander by Alistair Urquhart. The book tells of his experience of being deployed to Singapore during World War II. He didn’t carry out any fighting, he only fought a mental battle against the indignity of capture and the inhumanity of slavery, torture and Japanese brutality. I saw a documentary on BBC4 which featured veterans of the war in Southeast Asia; some of the veterans seemed to have mellowed with time, but to me, Alistair harboured the most anger – after reading the book, I sympathise completely. As absorbent as I can be with the failures in my day; equipment breakdowns, late deliveries, mess; I cannot see how I’d survive. The question I was left with regarded human behaviour, how could someone inflict pain on someone else, why do people behave ‘like that’. The natural thing for selfish me is to extend and scale down the mysteries of needless human suffering to modern, daily life of blocked fire exits, rude salesmen and thankless customers and ask why do people behave ‘like that’.

Of course, the song goes ‘when nothing goes right and the future’s dark as night, what you need is a sunny, sunny day’, so it can be easy to stop the morbid dwelling and be slightly thankful for the ability to sustain the immediate present. Art can lift my spirits, and to a musical event I went that evening, a show by Ezra Furman and The Boy-friends. I didn’t know how well attended this was going to be, I wouldn’t have been surprised if I was a crowd of one. I arrived just at the last effort of a one-man band looper (it seemed reasonably big once built up), the ten-strong crowd delivered applause. Next on were Happyness, they seemed pretty good despite my inability to understand any words, I shall consult the website for clarification, the fifteen-strong crowd delivered applause. At 2200 hrs, Ezra Furman appeared with the Boy-friends. I know ‘Day of the Dog’ is an amazing album and I can happily play it in the car at sound level 12-15. Seeing Ezra live, playing the songs with such perfection and at high energy, makes sound level 25 now necessary to prevent the album seeming flat to me. I couldn’t have predicted myself and 50 others in a basement being treated to such a wonderful performance by a man in a dress. His songs are sharp to the point on today’s social situation, his chat is amusing and he seems just to have real fun performing, I felt privileged to be among the small crowd. After his cover of ‘Train in Vain’,out into the fog I went, the hour was too late, but despite this, on my return to the house, I picked up a book and read into the small hours of the next day, until the ringing in my ears subsided.

Knowing that things can change rapidly and, often, not being able to see beyond the next half hour can be tough, but sometimes, when something nice happens, it can seem worth it. The pain is part of the joy. Sometimes the moments of greatest serenity can be pretty noisy. I moved on.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Coquettish Humanitarians,

On scrolling through the listings, I noticed that Three Blind Wolves were in the area. Despite not being instantly swayed into a state of awe, I’ve always kept an eye on Three Blind Wolves from a distance, due to my appreciation of the talents of Ross Clark, the singer and band leader. I bought his Anthems in Clams EP and he wrote back a lovely note of thanks and donated a few extra CDs as I was apparently the first person to place an order. Three Blind Wolves have left behind that indie-folk, anti-folk, sappy-folk thing that Ross might have become embroiled in and created a sound that is influenced hugely by Americana, this is not necessarily my favourite taste, but I trust Ross and I couldn’t ignore the band when they turned up in town.

First on the bill was Stanley, a local band from Aberdeen. Everyone must start somewhere but I have no great memories of the ‘bottom of the bill local band’ and I was tempted to stay at home but I dragged myself down there early. I made a wise choice, Stanley are quite good. The singer has a voice similar to that of Neil Hannon, indeed, their songs employ the sweet, tinkling percussion and the marching stomp that The Divine Comedy often do. Where they better or vary from The Divine Comedy is in their vocal harmonies, the other band members often step up and their chorus gives the group a different dimension. I hope to hear more of them in the coming months.

The deciding factor in whether I attended the gig was the presence of Washington Irving on the bill. I’d read the reviews and seen their name around other like bands, Admiral Fallow, Woodenbox, Loch Awe, Meursault, etc. If I was to draw comparisons, I would be thinking of The Pogues and The Decemberists due to their use of guitars, mandolin and flute. You’ve Seen theLast of Me is particularly anthemic but I enjoyed all of their set.

Time was wearing on and I was sleepy, in an act of top duffing, I decided to avoid sugar and caffeine for the remainder of the evening in hope of a better sleep when I eventually arrived home, I’m not proud to admit but I was on the verge of retiring before the main act. When Three Blind Wolves started with Hotel and then Parade, two of their singles, I thought they might have peaked and that I wouldn’t miss much more if I went but I dug in and I stayed. I’ve always loved Parade, it sits alongside Anthems in Clams in terms of quality, but I found the whole set to be of an equally high standard. By the time of the final song, Echo on the Night Train, I was yearning for the pillow but the encore was served up - a Ross Clark solo (good, old times) and a lovely rendition of The Weight.

I grabbed the poster and ran.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Proprietors Of Ears, Mouths and Tickets,

The stepped venue is my favourite kind: I like when I can find a unique vantage point above the majority. If I can find myself a staircase, a railing, a bench, a pillar or shoulder of the sound guy, then I will have an unusual position. I’ve found that the Lemon Tree has a reasonable amount of prime observation points. Viewing is possible from three levels, however, it seems that the upper two are for the chatterboxes. I don’t understand why anyone would make the effort to book tickets, pay for them and then talk through proceedings.

The Bellyaches massive only travel with me for the benefit of company during the car ride and the soundcheck. Visiting the bar and the toilet during the performance are also prohibited under Bellyaches law. I’d be full of shame if I was ever to be heard ordering a beverage during a quick interlude in a song.

I am quite skilled at filtering out distractions so I was able to take something from my two-gig week.  Not much has changed since I last saw Public Service Broadcasting. Everest, the encore tune, gripped me on radio airplay but most of their other songs are best complimented as part of the audio-visual package. The numbers based on WWII are given a boost by the film clips which cause the nostalgia to flow – I have no wartime memories, only recollections of high school history, Dad’s Army and the plastic pieces of food in Kirkcaldy Museum that represented rations. The similarity to Can during Spitfire is still striking to me, although this is still best received by the crowd. New single, Signal 30, is portrayed well with the clips of old car chases (is it a modern day equivalent to Nervous Norvus' Tranfusion?).

Despite the televisions and screens everywhere, one chatterbox only noticed the videos towards the end. I can’t help but think his £12 would have been better spend down the Red Lion. I’d rather swap all of his words for just a couple from the band leader, Willgoose Jr. Esq., who again only communicated through computer-generated speech.

If I could forgive talking at all, it might be at a Public Service Broadcasting gig - where words are few. At a Roddy Woomble gig, there is no way I can muster acceptance. Roddy, this time, led a 5-piece band, including his Seonaid Aitken and Soren McLean who been key collaborators throughout his solo career.

This tour is to promote his latest album, Listen to Keep. I must admit that I wasn’t sure of the album on first listen, I didn’t think that it showed any progress on Impossible Song and Other Songs, but I slowly warmed to it and in this live showing, it came alive for me. Roddy has such a warm and genuine tone that it’s difficult not to like his work. Many of his new solo songs are as valued in my affections as his Idlewild catalogue and its telling that he did not include any Idlewild songs in the performance, something that he has previously done.

One of the major highlights of the night was Seonaid Aitken’s violin playing. When I’ve previously seen Roddy, he hasn’t played an encore and he’s often decried the notion, however, on this occasion, they left the stage. Only, for Soren and Seonaid to return on their own; sitting awkwardly waiting on the others, they began to play, and before they knew it, they were playing a version of Penguin Café Orchestra’s Music For a New Found Harmonium - it was a delight.

The artists, Public Service Broadcasting and Roddy Woomble’s band, deserve our respect and our attention. I pity the towns that fail to give either, the people who show their ignorance are those who ruin it for others. Empty seats and gabbling hoards are both equally bad for the morale of the musicologist.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Woozy Tyros Faced with Actuality,

I’m very easily starstruck to the extent that merchandise stalls at gigs when staffed by the actual band are scary. I knew I was buying a ticket to see Edwyn Collins but there was still a sense of awe that the actual Edwyn Collins, one of the kings of pop, was actually in front of me.

As part of Orange Juice, Edwyn was responsible for a huge list of great singles and as a solo artist, he continued that success. ‘Fallingand Laughing’ and ‘Blue Boy’ are phenomenal but I think Edwyn probably matched these with the sheer sustained quality in his last Losing Sleep album. The fact that his latest album, Understated, is on par shows that Losing Sleep wasn’t a fluke and wasn’t due to the presence of his notable collaborators.

I couldn’t ask for more from the night, his band were great and they played all the hits. I was particularly happy to hear Losing Sleep and In Your Eyes, simply because I love that album. I still can’t believe I saw Edwyn Collins.  

Monday, April 08, 2013

Despondent Diamonds Disbonded,

There’s always a reason not to do something. I had been given the task of driving the length of the city twice and the thought of venturing back into it was an obstacle. The weather was an obstacle, I was already chilled to my tired bones – my neighbour was hungry and chose to flame-grill her meal with smoke alarm accompaniment at 2 am. In a recent episode, I left my Euros Childs ticket unused, and this was my driver, I didn’t want it to become habit so I wrapped my scarf around my neck and drove across to take part in Fence Records Night starring James Yorkston, The Pictish Trail and Seamus Fogarty.

My role in the evening was to sit at the back and wonder why my table didn’t have a candle like all the others. I felt positively left out, and, if someone had forewarned me, I’d have brought one from home, I still have all that bargain ex-Valentine’s Day stock to burn. Even better still, for the benefit of health and safety, I could’ve taken the candle from the lad on the adjacent table; he was desperate to torch anything.

The bonus of discovering someone unexpected is always welcome, and when the artists are capable of giving something unique just to those who are there on the night, live music becomes special and exclusive. I was already a fan of The Pictish Trail and James Yorkston, so it is unsurprising that my highlight was hearing Seamus Fogarty for the first time.

I was a late comer to the James Yorkston club, arriving only during The Year of the Leopard. His voice has a rich sincerity which always brings his stories alive and his ingenious guitar work provides a sense of real-time. Playing songs such as Tortoise Regrets Hare and Steady as She Goes, James was as accomplished as ever and moved everyone, especially with his tribute to late bass player and friend, Doogie Paul. James’ reading from his new book, a tour diary, added humour to his third of the night; voices from Johnny Pictish and Seamus added a Mr McScotty quality to the reading.

I was astounded by Seamus Fogarty, he’s creates quite an atmosphere with just his acoustic guitar. For instance, The Wind is so sparse lyrically and in notes, but yet it is so deep and wistful. Songs like HealsOver Head and Train to Mexico really command attention and I’m glad to have discovered his talents.

The Pictish Trail is responsible for one of my favourite songs, I Don’t Know Where to Begin, and his backing vocals were overlooked amongst much of the acclaim King Creosote rightfully received a few years back. Of course, now he is much more than Fence Records Man, he has two proper albums of his own and he was part of Silver Columns. Tonight, he played a mix from across the range, from a Lone Pigeon cover, Columns, The Handstand Crowd to All I Own. The participation from the audience on Not To Be was as lame as would be expected from an audience in this neck of the woods.

As a whole, the night was great. More Trail would have meant less Yorkston and Fogarty, and so on and so forth, and that’s not really desirable, I guess a fine and fair balance was struck and everyone went home happy, especially the man who got a free ticket for winning a joke competition, the entry reads: How does Buddy Holly like his eggs? The answer is: he likes them 54 years ago when he was still alive. I’m not sure that I really have to deliver my diatribe about jokes.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Separated Churchgoers and Skaters,

Once upon a time, on a grim winter day, I was walking along the seafront and passing the empty paddling pool that had been converted into a skate park. Its emptiness seemed to compliment the day and I began composing a poem, I stopped because I failed to carry a congruous theme throughout:

Stitched onto the sleeve of the coastline,
A caravan park, inhabited by only the indifferent,
The only insignia of a resort remaining

Arcade windows and doors buttoned shut, its pocket flap kiosk serves no rations of ice cream,
The travelling fair no longer reports for duty,
Holes patched, the art of putting banished,
The leaders have deemed the management of the paddling pool unmanageable.

Yet rolling marauders spotted a breach in their defence,
Armed only with tricks,
The council’s guard had to be let down,
The watery no-man’s land, now a bastion of skate.

Of an afternoon, when orders haven’t yet been given,
Its tranquillity is equilibrated against the convoy of waves
Their armour pierced only by daggers of gannets,
Wings tipped black as is a mark of respect.

The concrete walls of the pool have yet to become fully emblazoned
The angry or boastful telegraphs to those too busy rolling to read
Only slow, careful invaders have time to spy the traces of the frontier spray cans
On this uniform of former glories.
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